In the early eighteenth century, Britain and Spain didn’t get along very well. They were almost constantly at war, fighting one another in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718–1720), the Blockade of Porto Bello (1726), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1727–1729) to name a few. After the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the two countries signed the Treaty of Utrecht, which gave Britain the right to supply the Spanish colonies with 500 tons of goods per year and an unlimited number of slaves. This was good news for British traders and smugglers, as it opened the usually closed markets of Spanish America.
But with all of the fighting, things didn’t go very well. The Spanish started suspecting that the British traders were abusing the treaty, boarding their ships and confiscating their cargoes. So the British signed the Treaty of Seville in 1729, which gave Spanish warships the right to stop British traders to make sure they were upholding the Treaty of Utrecht.
In 1731, the Spanish coast guard boarded the British brig Rebecca, led by commander Julio León Fandiño. Fandiño accused the captain, Robert Jenkins, of piracy, and cut off his left ear. Fandiño then told him, “Go and tell your King that I will do the same, if he dares to do the same.” In 1738, Jenkins was ordered to attend Parliament to tell his story to the House of Commons; legend has it that he even produced the severed ear. The ear-severing incident was the last straw; the British considered it an insult to the honor of their nation and an act of war. On March 28, 1738, Parliament sent a letter to the King demanding action be taken. More than a year later, after exhausting all diplomatic means, King George II had no choice but to once again declare war on Spain. This war has come to be known as “The War of Jenkins’ Ear.”